Action to tackle the mounting congestion that threatens the economy and wellbeing in a North Yorkshire district cannot be delayed any further, the county’s highways leader has urged.
About 120 responses were received by North Yorkshire County Council within the first hour of its 12-week public survey opening online this morning, asking people who live, work and travel in Harrogate and the neighbouring market town of Knaresborough to have their say on the impact congestion is having.
Journey times on some of the towns’ main roads, such as the A59, A61 and A661, can take 145 per cent longer at peak times, with average speeds of 5.5mph.
Consultants working for the council have suggested ways in which the problem could be addressed and two “indicative packages” of potential solutions are being shared with the public.
Measures range from encouraging people to drive less, to major infrastructure schemes such as park and ride facilities, bus priority measures, and perhaps most contentious of all, an inner relief road and a bypass for the growing village of Killinghall.
No detailed project designs have been drawn up but the council wants residents’ views to inform what options are developed.
Coun Don Mackenzie, the council’s executive member for access, said it was “absolutely vital” the area’s congestion is tackled after previous failed attempts at delivering major infrastructure schemes.
Plans for a western Harrogate bypass were axed nearly 20 years ago after a public furore led to the threat of a judicial review.
The last major road built in the area was a southern bypass in the early 1990s.
“Thirty years on, like every other town in the UK, car ownership has increased, the population has increased, more homes are being built now than ever before - in other words, congestion has become far, far worse,” Coun Mackenzie said. “It’s not a situation we need to keep putting off.”
He said the council was not “wedded” to the idea of a relief road; anything resembling a motorway was out of the question; and he was “totally open minded” about the best solutions.
“We don’t want this engagement event to become like a referendum on a relief road or not,” he said. “We are a highways authority but that doesn’t mean we are wedded to highways if there are genuinely effective methods of getting rid of congestion by doing other things, like making people get on their feet, getting on bikes, car sharing, using public transport and rail.
“If we are not going to increase our highways network, we have to decrease the number of vehicles on the roads... but we have to address the question of how we change people’s behaviour.”
The first of seven public exhibitions of the proposals start at Harrogate’s Cairn Hotel on May 8.